What is the roll of the Project Manager in Scrum?

I get a lot of questions about the role of the Project Manger in the world of Scrum and there is usually a lot of hemming and hawing from consultants and Scrum coaches that want to take the touchy-feely approach.

Update – 2012– 01 – 21 – I felt that Are Project Managers Living A Lie? requires a read as it adds value to this post. I am only advocating a return to the old ways…

There is NO role for the traditional Project Manager in the world of Scrum!

There I said it, and really if you want to embody transparency and trust you have to say these things and make them explicitly clear. If you are currently a Project Manager you have two choices:

  1. Product Owner – If you are more product or customer focused then it makes a lot of sense for you to head towards the Product Owner role where you can concentrate on the delivery of value to the customers.
  2. Scrum Master – If you are more process focused then you can gravitate towards the Scrum Master role and becoming an agent for change within your organisation.

But what if you are in the third category of Project Manager that is only interested in people management and task up tracking? Well, it is time for that old dog to either learn a new trick or be put down.


Truth 1: People work better when they manage themselves

For those in #1 and #2, or that are interested in moving there, there are a host of opportunities in these two worlds that will keep you busy and expand your horizons for many years to come. Both of these roles are HARD and owning them and making them work is part of the fun.

Product Owner (PO) or Product Owner Office (POO)

This business of owning the WHAT is fairly complicated and extensive. There are many jobs that need done in a POO (don’t forget to flush) that go beyond the basic PO roll of a single backlog or product. If you are a large organisation then you will likely have many Scrum Teams, many Backlogs and many Products that all need managed. You will have many Stakeholders and competing ideas that need to be validated, valued, filed and ordered in a way that makes the PBI’s visible and understood by everyone that looks at it.

In this case you can and may indeed have folks who have the title of Project Manager and that works for the business and provides services to the Product Owner.

Note: Make sure that you only have ONE Product Owner per backlog that has complete authority. Although it is alright for them to have help.
Note: No, you can’t change the Scrum Guide

This is really hard!

Scrum Master (SM) or Scrum Master Office (SMO)

The Scrum Master has a hard job as well. They are the torch bearer within their organisation for the process that includes, but is not limited to, Scrum and they have to be that agent for change. I can’t tell you how to do that as it is different in every organisation; if anyone tells you otherwise they are lying.


While this may well turn out be like the posts of 5 years ago about the “death of the Tester” only to have it return I do think that will not be the case here. I believe that we are not getting rid of the Project Manager we are just moving that role back to the Business / Customer side of the story where it belongs.